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Solo shots not enough for Cardinals

Solo shots not enough for Cards

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CINCINNATI -- For five months, road trips meant refuge for the Cardinals. Now it's quite the opposite.

St. Louis lost its sixth straight game, its fifth straight road game and its 10th road contest in 11 tries on Tuesday night, 7-2, to the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

Braden Looper breezed for five innings before a choppy sixth, and another night of shaky execution left the Cardinals one day closer to playoff elimination. Thanks to the Cubs' win over the Brewers, St. Louis was eliminated from contention for the National League Central title.

Following a busy night in the playoff race, the Mets now lead the chase for the National League Wild Card, and the Cards are five games back. Milwaukee trails New York by a half-game, with Houston in third place in the Wild Card race and Florida now tied with the Cardinals. Any combination of eight Mets or Brewers wins and Cardinals losses will send St. Louis home for October.

"Clearly, we've backed ourselves into a little bit of a corner here," said Troy Glaus. "But the numbers still dictate it's possible. And as such, you have to play the game assuming you're trying to move on and get into the playoffs and win as many games as you possibly can."

The problem for the Cardinals is they're not winning many games. After going 3 1/2 months without a losing road trip, they went 1-5 in Houston and Arizona on their last trip. On this, their final trip of the year, they're 0-4 with two games remaining in Cincinnati and three in Chicago.

One month ago, following an Aug. 16 win over these same Reds, the Cardinals were 37-28 in road games. Now they're down to an even 38-38.

"It's kind of ironic," said manager Tony La Russa. "The last road trip and now this road trip. We had the best road record in the league, and then all of a sudden, we're having real struggles. But I think the way we're going right now, it's just a rough stretch. We're having trouble putting good things together."

Bronson Arroyo held St. Louis to a pair of solo home runs over seven innings, and the Reds' bullpen pitched two scoreless frames. The Cards have scored exactly two runs in four of their past five games, and three or fewer in eight out of 11.

"We're not doing enough to overcome," La Russa said. "We're not scoring enough runs. We're not shutting people out. So mistakes accumulate against us."

The Cardinals are 78-72 with 12 games remaining in the season, and their mark of six games over .500 is the closest they've been to even-money since May 20, when they were 27-21.

Looper was outstanding for five innings, and he took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth courtesy of Glaus' early homer. But he got in trouble in the sixth, when two singles and a walk loaded the bases. Edwin Encarnacion's double brought home three runs and gave Cincinnati the lead.

"It was a [split-finger fastball]," Looper said. "I was just trying to bury the split and throw it over the plate down, and I just left it up a little bit. It wasn't a real bad pitch. It was almost like he was sitting on it, and he made me pay."

Aaron Miles went deep in the next half-inning to cut the lead to a single run, but Danny Richar drove in a run when he beat out a potential double-play ball in the bottom of the seventh, then the Reds added some insurance in the eighth.

"It's just very unfortunate, very frustrating," Looper said. "I felt like I was in control, and I sat down when it was over wondering what just happened."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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